Friday, June 5, 2015

Translating Spells

The following is a list of general guidelines for translating the spells from the source material into Spirit of Greyhawk.

General Note about Translation

Anything that the spell description "states" can be generally assumed to be true (Fireball is still a 3rd level spell). However in terms of the actual implementation when it comes to measurable metrics may vary somewhat, though still trying to stay as true as possible to the expected magical effect.

So every spell has the following properties in the source material:

  • Level - This is the difficulty of the spell.
  • Range - Distance as a measure of how far away the caster can be from the effect.
  • Duration - Time as a measure of how long the spell lasts.
  • Area of Effect - Distance as a measure of a spell's effect.
  • Components - The requirements to cast the spell.
  • Casting Time - Time as a measure of how long the Wizard is engaged in generating the effect.
  • Saving Throw - The means by which the target could resist/reduce/negate the effect.
  • Explanation/Description - The writeup of the spell.


The source material’s most granular unit of time is 6 seconds (1 Segment) and SoG will consider that the equivalent of a single Fate “exchange” (or Full Action). Though I think that 6 seconds to cover only a single combat exchange is a bit long, it’s not bad enough to warrant trying to make a more complicated translation.

However there’s a bit of a translation challenge associated with going from an absolute time scale (in the source material) to Time as expressed in the Fate Core system. Fate Core tends to look at the impact of time more from a dramatic perspective. Additionally, even the use of a Time Ladder is a holdover from earlier Fate implementations--I currently only use it when I need a translation guideline--during gameplay, time tends to more closely resemble Fate Care.

Source Material Casting TimeSoG Game Duration“Actual” Time in Game
InstantAction (not full action)About 3 seconds or less
1 SegmentFull Action (1 Exchange)6 seconds
2 Segments2 Exchanges12 seconds
3 Segments to 1 round3 Exchanges18 seconds to 1 minute
1 round to 1 turnLess than a Scene1 - 10 minutes
1 turn to 2 turnsEntire Scene10 - 20 minutes

(The full ladder for time goes further than this, but again this is enough for translation purposes.)

I have an untested theory that it might be possible to add a dramatic dimension to protraying time and spell duration for games occurring in real-time (around the table) and suggest that a GM to actually assign a real-world "time" to a spell's duration.

So if a Shield spell was cast at 12:45pm (real world time at the table), the Wizard player could just write down that the spell was in force until 1:25pm (reflecting a spell duration of 40 minutes).

Given the relatively quick pace of Fate Core combat, I think this might be a fun way to log a spell's duration, as something easier than counting the number of exchanges, but more granular than just having spells last "the remainder of the scene", or "the rest of the session."

Translating Distance

Distance is used when considering both Area of Effect and Range. Fred Hicks posted a great guideline about how to adapt Fate to D&D maps (where 1 map square = 5 feet of game distance) that serves as the basis for SoG distance assumptions. SoG works with both zones and maps, but here’s the bottom line for purposes of SoG spell translation:

  • Most source material dungeon maps that I care about scale at 1 map square = 10 feet of game distance.
  • The source material expresses distance for spells (within a dungeon) as 1 inch = 10 feet of game distance.
  • I generally consider a single zone in SoG as 30 feet long and 30 feet wide, which is 3 map squares on each side.
  • When placing characters on a map (should your game choose to do that) the caster stands at the middle of a 3x3 square that represents the Fate “zone” currently occupied.

This means that melee attacks (range "Touch”) can only be executed on adjacent squares or a target occupying the same square as the caster.

Anything further than that adjacent square would mean that the target was in a different zone from the caster.

So what this means for translating spells...

  • For a spell to affect someone in the next zone, the source material spell needs a range of at least 2" (using the measure of distance as shown in the source material).
  • In order to affect an entire zone of targets, the spell must have an Area of Effect of at least 3" square or radius.

Spell Components

Spell Components in SoG represent requirements placed upon the spell caster in order to generate a spell’s effect. If one of those requirements cannot be met, the spell cannot be cast "as is". Remember, trying to modify a spell's formula on the fly changes the casting from Wizardry into Sorcery.

Each category of component (Verbal, Somatic, Material) places a temporary aspect on the caster for the duration of the spell casting.

These temporary aspects could be leveraged by opponents seeking to disrupt the caster and interrupt the spell, or represent some additional challenge. Remember that aspects represent a narrative "truth"--so if the caster has a "verbal casting" aspect on him, the narrative truth is that the Wizard is verbally speaking a portion of the spell.

If the spellcaster cannot maintain those temporary aspects during the course of the casting, then the spell is interrupted.

The source material states there are three categories of spell components, any or all of which could be required for the Wizard to cast a particular spell:

Verbal Component

This requires that the caster must speak certain magical incantations in order to cast the spell. SoG’s assumption is that the caster would likely have to speak at a normal tone or louder. This places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast.

Example: A party is trying to hide from sentries, and the party's Wizard casts a spell with a Verbal component. The GM could then compel that aspect to give the sentries a +2 to Alertness.

Somatic Component

The caster must use certain gestures or movements in order to cast the spell. SoG’s assumption is that freedom of movement for both hands is required. This places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast. Bear in mind that if the caster is forced to move during casting (for example, dives for cover), the Somatic Component is interrupted.

Additionally, you could liken this to the experienced gunslinger stopping and standing still to reload his six-shooter, while an opponent's bullets are hitting all around him.

Example: A Wizard is being attacked while casting a spell with a Somatic component. For the duration of the casting the attacker could have access to the normal free initial use of the aspect for +2 to an attack, or pay a Fate point to use the aspect after the free tag.

Material Components

The caster must expend certain magical reagents (Material Components) in order to cast the spell. The caster must be able to access these components during the casting, and this places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast.

Rather than worry about specific material components, consider the collective rarity of the material components relative to the situation.

Currently SoG uses four categories of Material component rarity:

Common Material Components

Common materials are something that would be readily available to the Wizard under normal circumstances.

Examples: dirt, grease, chalk

Rare Material Components

Materials that are considered as "Rare" require some effort on the part of the Wizard to obtain or require some sort of skill to distill/prepare.

Examples: crystal, sulfur, mercury, ash

Very Rare Material Components

Very Rare materials reflect something beyond the ability of most Wizards to create for themselves, or require a much larger effort to obtain.

Examples: a hair from the spell's intended target, a demon's True Name, gems of 10,000 gp value, tears from a unicorn gathered under a full moon

Unique Material Components

Unique materials reflect something that would typically be story-driven in order for the Wizard to obtain, or would be all but impossible for any but a guild master to even attempt to collect.

Examples: Blackrazor, a golden apple from Mount Olympus, the skull of the demi-lich Acererak, a four-leaf clover found in the Sea of Dust

Game Impact of Component Rarity

Compelling Aspects

The category of component rarity can serve as a guide as to how often this aspect might be compelled:

Example: If a Wizard has the aspect of “Impoverished”, and is attempting to cast a spell with “Very Rare” components, the GM could compel the Impoverished aspect and essentially block the casting by declaring the Wizard does not have the resources available to possess those components and thus can't cast that spell as Wizardry (and credit the Wizard a Fate Point).

Component Rarity and Impact to Magical Effects

The rarity of a material component will also have an impact to the On The Fly Magical Effect Economy (NOTE: This hasn't been published yet).

RarityImpact to Difficulty
Very Rare-3

You might also consider that "impact to difficulty" as also being relative difficulty in acquiring those components. So, a Very Rare material component might be considered as a +3 diffculty against a character's Resource skill.

Look in this article I wrote over at Spirit of the Blank for more information about the concept of a separate stress track for Treasure, and the impact of the Resources skill on it.

Spell Translation Examples

A quick recommendation! If you are looking for a good, no-nonsense online resource for PHB spells, you should go here. Thanks to you guys for keeping it old-school and functional.

Spell “Tenser’s Floating Disc”

To keep this post's size a bit smaller, click on Tenser’s Floating Disc for a writeup as it appeared in the version of the PHB that SoG references.

SoG Translation

Skill: +1 Difficulty
Range: 20 feet (2 squares)
Duration: 30 mins + (20 mins * Skill level)
Area of Effect: See below
Components: V, S, M (Rare: drop of mercury)
Casting Time: Action (3 seconds or less)
Opposed by: n/a
Effect: Create a magical construct in the shape of a concave disc 3' in diameter that holds an amount of weight that can be expressed as either:

  1. 2,000 gp x Caster’s Skill Level
  2. 200 lbs x Caster’s Skill Level
  3. Might Skill of -1 (Poor) + (Caster’s Skill Level * 2)

All three represent the same weight, just expressed by 3 different standards.

It maintains a constant 6 foot distance (adjacent map square) to the caster unless otherwise stated by the caster's command, but the disc itself cannot push anything out of the way. It will remain at 3 feet off the ground, and stays level. If it is blocked from the caster and more than 20 feet (2 map squares) is put between them, the spell is broken.

If the spell is broken or expires, the disc construct dissipates and what ever was being carried by the disc falls as normal.

No positive shifts are considered for this spell, and unless in combat or otherwise challenged during casting, there is not a need to roll dice to cast this spell.

Example:Someone with a Wizard Skill +2, casts this spell and creates a floating disc that will last for 70 minutes (30 + (20 x 2)), and can carry 400 lbs (200 x 2) or has a Might of +3 (-1 + (2 x 2))

Example:Using Wizard Skill +7, this spell would create a floating disc that will last for 170 minutes (30 + (20 x 7)), and can carry 1,400 lbs (200 x 7) or has a Might of +13 (-1 + (7 x 2)). Or 14,000 gp, if there was a way to stack the gold pieces on the 3' diameter disc!

Design Notes:

  • One definition of weight (DMG, p.225) is that 10 gp = 1 pound. That means 1,000 gp = 100 lbs. The SotC Weight Factor table (SotC, p.258) reflects that a Might skill of "Poor" (-1) means being able to hold and move (slowly) with 100 lbs, which is the “base” capacity of the disc.
  • The variable in this spell is based upon the skill level of the Wizard, which then is used for both the "strength" of the spell's effect, as well as for the duration. Unless otherwise stated, when looking at a factor of "(something) per level" you don't just consider the Wizard's skill level, but rather the net result of the Wizard's skill level, the dice roll, and the impact of any aspects or other casting modifiers.
  • For this particular spell, any positive shifts during this casting are discarded. For game play purposes, unless someone was trying to interrupt the wizard this casting wouldn't require a dice roll.
  • Also remember that when dealing with a "per level" factor, every +1 of Wizard skill counts as two experience levels in the source material.

Spell “Magic Missile”

Magic Missile writeup at Pandaria

SoG Translation

Skill: +1 Difficulty
Range: 60 feet + 20 feet / skill level (see below for table)
Components: Verbal, Somatic
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: One or more creatures in a 10 foot square area (1 map square)
Casting Time: Action (3 seconds or less)
Opposed by: n/a
Effect: The spell creates magical missiles (the amount depends upon the result of the Wizardry skill roll, shown below) which dart forth from the caster's fingertips and unerringly strike their target with no chance for the target to dodge or defend. Mundane armor does not count for protection. Certain magical protections may be used.

The caster can determine at will how many of the missiles will strike each target within a single zone. So if a Wizard generates 3 magic missiles and a zone within range of the Wizard contains 2 targets, the Wizard can determine how the 3 missiles are used between the 2 targets.

Each individual missile counts as +1 physical stress. Because each missile counts as a separate attack, when multiple missiles are aimed at a single target, the cumulative “rollup” effect can be devastating.

The number of missiles created is determined by the Skill result (Wizardry + die roll 2dF+2), then dividing the result by two and rounding down.

Skill Roll Result# of Missiles
11 Missile
22 Missiles
32 Missiles
43 Missiles
53 Missiles
64 Missiles
74 Missiles
85 Missiles
95 Missiles
106 Missiles
116 Missiles
127 Missiles

The maximum range of the Magic Missile spell is 60 feet + 20 feet / skill level. This can also be expressed with the following "skill level to Zone" table (assuming a 30' per zone).

Wizard SkillMaximum Range
13 zones away
23 zones away
34 zones away
45 zones away
55 zones away
66 zones away
77 zones away
87 zones away
98 zones away

Example: Trevare (Wizardry +5) is duelling against a sorceror. He casts Magic Missile in the hopes of getting in the first blow. The Wizard rolls 2dF+2 and gets +2 for a result of +6 (+5 skill + 2 shifts - 1 difficulty = +6). This creates 4 missiles that streak toward the unfortunate sorceror, who could be as far away as 5 zones.

Unable to dodge and having no other defenses already in place, the sorceror receives 4 separate missiles each of 1 stress, wiping out the first 4 physical stress boxes (if the sorceror even has that many), or to take consequences.

Example: The wizard Morgeaux (Wizardry +3) is beset by a group of 3 foul bugbears. An earlier fireball by Morgeaux has left many of them damaged, and she knows that even a simple spell might finish them off. Casting Magic Missile, she rolls 2dF+2 and gets a result of 1. This means she has generated (3 skill + 1 shifts - 1 difficulty) 3 positive shifts, for a total of two missiles (1 + (3/2)). Morgeaux chooses to aim one missile each at two of the three bugbears and deals one physical stress to each, leaving her to deal with a single remaining bugbear rushing her...

Design Notes

  • A single hit die is a D8, so technically each stress box counts as 2 hit dice. Which also means that the average hit points from 2HD would be about 9 or 10. Which would also place the average damage per missile at 4 points (3 + 1), which would then mean 2 missiles would be needed to do enough damage to take out 1 stress box. Rather than worry about the exact number of missiles in the description, I would rather just simplify to 1 missile equal 1 stress box.
  • Because the variability in the original spell (the dice roll) was about the damage and in translation the damage roll was too granular for Fate, the variability in the spell has now changed to be a modifier to the number of missiles. This was how the shifts-to-missiles formula was created.
  • I believe there needed to be a variable impacted by the dice, given that this is a combat spell. The idea of a combat spell having no variable power of any kind didn't feel right.
  • However, with the above point in mind, this is a rare combat spell in that it has no opportunity for target to oppose the spell (no Dodge, etc). The casting could be interrupted, if someone was capable of action at the same time as the casting.
  • Later versions of this spell in the source materials required line-of-sight to the target / targets, but the original AD&D listing did not. So the implication is that the Wizard just has to “know” the target is there (around the corner, invisible, behind cover, etc) in order to use this spell. Given that Fate Core's default methodology is zones and doesn't normally get in to things like "line of sight", I'm currently sticking with this version.

Spell “Shield”

Shield writeup at Pandaria

SoG Translation

Skill: +1 Difficulty
Range: 0
Components: Verbal, Somatic
Duration: 5 minutes x Skill Roll Result
Area of Effect: Special (in front of Wizard)
Casting Time: Full Action (1 Exchange)
Opposed by: n/a
Effect: An invisible shield is created in front of the Wizard that acts as physical armor. Though the shield moves with the Wizard, it is bound to the Wizard's "front". This means that attackers with an advantage (i.e., aspect, boost) that involves out-flanking, back-stabbing, or some other similar manuever will be able to bypass the Shield spell's benefit.

This spell is one of the few effective defenses against the Magic Missile spell and will totally negate the damage of that spell.

Against all other types of physical attacks (arrows, spears, melee) the spell is worth +6dF armor benefit.

Design Notes

  • The spell's duration was given in "real world" minutes to put some variability in the spell's casting. If that's inappropriate (i.e., play-by-email) then have the spell last until the end of the scene.
  • Remember that a magical spell could still count as a physical attack (eg., Ice Storm spell damage is a result of physical damage).